Recently in Mobile Category
One of today's best trends in wireless can be summed up in one word: "free." Mobile users have seen a growing array of choices allowing them to stream many popular websites and content at no charge to their data plans.
Known as "free data," these offerings from mobile carriers provide important benefits for low-income and minority communities who may struggle to afford mobile broadband. Additionally, programs like this help individuals in these communities gain better access to health care services on their mobile devices - heart and stroke monitoring, blood pressure and vision testing, and so much more.
So why is the FCC being so hesitant to embrace the free data offerings that are already delivering benefits to consumers and the marketplace?
The FCC's chair initially praised the free data concept last fall. But barely a month later, the Commission reversed course and launched an investigation into the practice. In the FCC's view, there's apparently a question as to whether giving something away free is a form of online discrimination. Given their concern, I hope they'll read a new report on this subject from the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council.
The MMTC looked at free data's impact in several key areas including the digital divide, consumers who rely on mobile broadband, mobile innovation and consumer empowerment. In each area, MMTC found that free data's benefits are "profound and wide-ranging."
Sponsored programs involving free data are likely to become an increasingly effective way to finance faster, more accessible broadband service for all. On this point, the report notes: "The actual contours of the free data plans are fluid, responsive to consumer demand, optional, and, unlike many other online offerings, they do not rely on targeted ads to pay for the data."
If the FCC wants to ensure more Americans can enjoy the benefits of mobile broadband, then it should not unnecessarily interfere with a program that is leading to more innovation and competition in the marketplace.
Everyone supports making broadband service faster and easier to access. But spreading this service everywhere is a pricey proposition. Free data is an excellent option to help pay for it. The FCC should let it bloom.
Reform of the federal Lifeline program took an important and much-needed step forward earlier this month as Congress heard testimony about how to create a more effective system to help low-income consumers.
In one sense, the hearing was a deserved victory for recent efforts to improve the program. Four years ago, Congress and the FCC took action to stop the program's spiraling problems of waste and fraud. Lifeline had become stereotyped more for its inefficiency than for its successes. As everyone recognized, those likely to be affected most by a continued lack of confidence in the program would be the low-income beneficiaries Lifeline was designed to help.
As Congress heard, the 2012 reform has produced tangible results. Annual program payments have dropped by more than 30% since 2012 as fraudulent and undeserving participants were dropped from the program.
But the hearing also put a necessary spotlight on the next logical part of Lifeline's reform: establishing an efficient verification system to keep out those who don't qualify.
Last month, the FCC began moving in the right direction with a new National Eligibility Verifier (NEV) to further control Lifeline's waste and abuse. The NEV is an independent third party that uses Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to determine eligibility.
Until now, Lifeline relied on wireless carriers to establish program verification and the problems with that have become increasingly clear. Earlier this month, the FCC announced a $51 million fine against California-based Total Call Mobile for defrauding its Lifeline. The FCC claimed that the company enrolled tens of thousands of ineligible consumers, allegedly receiving nearly $10 million from the Lifeline program in improper payments.
Even beyond this, virtually no other carrier supported the system because it often put them in an unwinnable position of mediating qualification disputes between consumers and the Federal government.
Finally, no discussion of Lifeline can be complete without acknowledging the larger context around changing consumer demands and areas of greatest need. Clearly, Lifeline's expanded focus on mobile broadband is proving correct. Last December, the Center for Disease Control reported that almost half of all U.S. households were wireless-only and that the shift to mobile services has been even more prevalent among low-income Americans.
Millions of low-income Americans depend on the Lifeline program and Congress and the FCC deserve credit for improving it. The challenge now is to build on this success.
Mobile World Congress on mHealth
It sometimes takes a large, trusted media outlet to add legitimacy to an issue, trend, innovation, etc...and hopefully that holds true for mHealth.
For mHealth, last week's HiMSS event was eclipsed this week by the largest mobile trade show in the world - Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. It plays host to hundreds of exhibitors, more than 60,000 attendees and some of the marquee media outlets from around the world...including CNN.
The global news outlet posted a story from MWC, "Mobiles and medicine: The brave new world of mHealth," on its site that highlights the role that mobility can, will, and needs to play in the future of health care. It offers examples of some applications and services on display in Barcelona. The mobile players at the show understand the altruistic need for supporting the health care industry, but more importantly, the potential revenue opportunities that go along with that support.
Furthermore, the mobile industry understands that health care applications and services raise the bar when it comes to quality and consistency of delivery. When a YouTube video buffers it's annoying for the customer - but when a doctor using a mobile ultrasound probe plugged into a smartphone loses a mobile signal, or has to buffer, it can lead to a wrong diagnosis.
As I've stated repeatedly, the two industries - health care and mobility - need to walk in lockstep to support and enable mHealth. This is also true with the media. Yes, even CNN.
Last week CNN Money ran a three-part series on spectrum (the airwaves required to carry your mobile call or data connection), "Sorry America: your wireless airwaves are full." The series pointed out the need for regulators to quickly auction unused spectrum and for companies to develop innovative solutions to optimize the finite airwaves available to run all the content-rich applications and services craved by consumers and businesses.
Even the media doesn't understand that you really can't do one without the other. I think these two reporters need to chat with each other.
mHealth - not the fitness apps or the fun apps that are nice to have - requires the highest and most consistent level of quality connections available to ensure there are no blips in the delivery of services. Fun is nice, but true health services provided over a mobile device is a different story.
The mobile industry is working feverously to design and deploy new technologies to optimize the existing airwaves, but the auctioning of unused spectrum is more than a year away - so that may mean that broad adoption of mHealth is still a way off.
@TechnicalJones: mHealth - Look Now
As you know, I've been a strong proponent for educating people on technology and the positive impact it can have on the quality and cost of health care service.
During their conference this week, the folks at HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), introduced "mHealth From Smartphones to Smart Systems," a guideline for successfully implementing mobile healthcare programs in each area of the industry's ecosystem.
While I haven't had a chance to review the book, the editors offer a preview that makes me think there are some people who actually "get it." Contributing editors come from all walks of life - academia, government, health care, tech and telecom - offering simple examples on designing, deploying and implements programs that utilize current and future mobile technologies to further reform and advance health care.
More importantly, the book highlights the need for education and training on the basics of mHealth for all those who touch the processes and programs put in place. It offers clear understanding of the important role technology plays in enhancing the quality and reducing the costs of healthcare - regardless of how, where and when services are needed - by changing the way health care professionals currently provide services.
"For m-health initiatives to be successful in the US, we quickly need to close the gap of understanding that exists among the players in the government, the mobile sector and the healthcare industry," said Andy Castonguay, Principal Analyst, Handsets and Devices, Informa Telecoms & Media. "This book's diverse contributors provide just such a vehicle to push that national conversation in a meaningful and productive direction."
In addition to the expert advice offered throughout the book, it includes several case studies that outline the opportunities and obstacles for implementing a successful mHealth program, addressing issues on security and privacy, compliance, developing a business model, crafting an mHealth strategy, and of course, the future of mHealth.
The book is available online at HIMSS online. Based on the preview, I expect reading the book will cut through all the hype and put things in proper perspective.